Soccer pundits have differed on the reasons behind Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu’s landslide victory in Mangochi last weekend.
Nyamilandu’s critics claim that his re-election successes are not a result of his sound policies and achievements, but porous electoral laws and his unfair campaign tactics.
However, other commentators say Nyamilandu, who has been at the helm of local football for 10 years, has laid strong electoral foundations that cannot be breached easily.
Nyamilandu amassed 27 votes while his challenger Wilkins Mijiga got seven and Willy Yabwanya Phiri had two.
Reacting to his victory, Henry Chibowa, who once contested against Nyamilandu, claimed that the FAM leader’s campaign team has a tendency of blocking other aspirants from contacting the affiliates.
“The lesson I learned is that it is impossible to woo affiliates especially when we are nearing elections. Most of the affiliates, I discovered, lodge at one place organised by the Walter campaign team,” he said.
“The affiliates are completely inaccessible and their phones are switched off.”
Chibowa, who was Mijiga’s campaign director, condemned the campaign strategy as unfair: “It means the other candidates are not given a last chance to convince the affiliates to vote for them.”
He, however, praised the electoral reforms at the soccer governing body, that have seen the approval of statutes which stipulate that the delegates to the elective annual general meeting (AGM, are revealed 15 days before the polls.
“This rule, I am sure, was aimed at giving the aspirants an opportunity to campaign to the voters directly. I think if this can be enforced then the future elections will be free and fair,” Chibowa said.
He said the clause is key to fair elections: “The truth is that FAM deliberately issued the list of the names late. This meant there was little chance for candidates to contact the voters.”
In response, Nyamilandu said: “So, Chibowa is still an aggrieved party. This shows that he is one of the casualties of the campaign.
“It shows that he is hurt. He (Chibowa) will never stop trying. I can’t waste my time responding to claims from someone who will do anything to taint my image.”
On his part, football commentator Charles Nyirenda said Nyamilandu has managed to hang on to power due to lack of clear guidelines regarding delegates who are supposed to cast votes.
Nyirenda, whose bid for second vice-presidency hit a snag because he could not get a nomination, said it was surprising that some affiliates assigned mere committee members leaving behind top officials.
“What it means is that once the chairperson of a particular affiliate is pro-Walter, he will influence the selection of those going to the AGM. Nyamilandu is in the system, so in this case it is easy for him to manipulate the heads of FAM affiliates,” he said.
Nyirenda, who once served as FAM general secretary, said there must be specific laws which should specify that priority for the AGM attendance should be given to top executive committee officials of the affiliated institutions.
However, Super League of Malawi (Sulom) general secretary Williams Banda—whose body nominated Mijiga— said Nyamilandu has continued to dominate because of his good policies.
“It’s nothing else apart from the fact that his policies have impressed most affiliates. I think throughout the past elections he has been the best candidate that is why he continues to be re-elected,” he said.
Banda feels that their endorsed candidate Mijiga lost because he did not convince the affiliates.
“Our point in nominating him [Mijiga] was to ensure that we provide the voters with a wide range of choices. Our duty was to nominate. So, it was up to Mijiga to woo more voters, which he didn’t manage,” the Sulom GS added.
Southern Region Football Association (SRFA) chairperson Raphael Humba and his Central Region counterpart Austin Ajawa said they rallied their support behind Nyamilandu because they were impressed with his performance and plans going forward.
“Out of the three presidential candidates, it was only Walter who approached us to sell us his plans, the others never did. You can even ask them. We were also impressed with his [Walter] previous achievements.
“He has set up structures, the image of FAM has been restored. Previously, the FAM general secretary used to walk to the office but now there are several cars, which is a clear sign of progress. Chiwembe Technical Centre is now a hotel and the national players’ welfare has improved. All these make us proud to continue voting for him,” he said.
Humba and Ajawa also dismissed allegations that other candidates could not get hold of affiliates because they were gagged by Nyamilandu.
“The affiliates are mature people and to claim that they are ordered to switch off their phones, is sheer lack of respect,” he fumed.
On his part, football commentator George Kaudza-Masina said it was difficult to defeat Nyamilandu because he has established a circle that is not easy to break.
“No matter how resilient his challengers could have been during campaign, they could not have beaten him,” he said. “Nyamilandu has been in that position for a long time and he knows which buttons to press,” said Kaudza-Masina who served in FAM executive committee for close to a decade.
He added: “The fact that Mijiga and Yabwanya have never served in active positions put them at a disadvantage as they were viewed as ‘strangers’. They needed to serve at affiliate level so that they get to know the system and politics. So, even if the other candidates were given more time to reach out to affiliates, it could not have changed anything.”
Former FAM secretary general Yasin Osman said Nyamilandu has done a lot to improve football standards that is why he continues to dominate during elections.
“I have worked with him and he has brilliant ideas. Just look at the football structures and infrastructure he has laid and the way our local games are organised and you will realise that Walter has done well,” he said.
Osman further said that after the FAM presidential elections debate, it was clear that Nyamilandu will retain the seat.
“He presented his ideas clearly. It was easy to see that he is going to win again. He has proven over the years that he is the best man for the job,” the experienced football administrator said.
Osman has since asked Nyamilandu to work with Mijiga and Yabwanya in a bid to move football forward.